Where's the Outrage Over Janet Reno?
by L. Brent Bozell III
August 11, 1998
Outside of hermits in Montana mud huts, no one could assert
the TV networks haven't followed the saga of Monica Lewinsky. This story is
giving last year's "Death of a Princess" bonanza a run for its
money. (Which is not to say coverage is unbiased, or that they've
pursued every angle, as in Linda Tripp's story of Clintonite threats and
surveillance.) Unfortunately, the Clinton scandals without talk of
"genetic material" are still going largely ignored.
Exhibit A: the fundraising scandal. Remember that? The House
Government Reform and Oversight Committee had to prepare and pass a citation
against Attorney General Janet Reno for contempt of Congress before the TV
This bias by omission doesn't apply to newspapers, which
still, apparently, care about news. On July 23, New York Times reporter David
Johnston revealed on the front page: "After a 10-month inquiry, the
departing chief of the Justice Department's campaign finance unit has
concluded in a confidential report to Attorney General Janet Reno that she has
no alternative but to seek an independent prosecutor to investigate political
fundraising abuses during President Clinton's re-election campaign." He
added the report from Reno's hand-picked prosecutor, Charles LaBella,
"represents a serious internal fracture within the Justice
But was it serious enough for the network sages who beat
their breasts over having to cover DNA testing? That morning, NBC's
"Today" broadcast two briefs totaling 41 seconds on the matter,
while ABC and CBS aired zippo. Despite a question to Reno about the matter at
a press conference that morning complete with her videotaped response, that
night, ABC and NBC aired nothing, while CBS and CNN aired one full report
A week before that, The New York Times noted on its front
page that at a Senate hearing, Sen. Fred Thompson read portions of FBI
Director Louis Freeh's November memo to Reno, which also insisted on the need
for an independent counsel. None of the networks mentioned that except CNN's
Pierre Thomas, who mentioned it in his report on LaBella.
On July 24th, both ABC's "Good Morning
America" and NBC's "Today" scheduled interviews with Vice
President Al Gore from Moscow. But NBC's Katie Couric ignored the scandal. She
didn't throw softballs; she set the balls on a tee. At the very end of his
interview, ABC's Aaron Brown only asked Gore how he would get beyond those
annoying prosecutors: "There are more and more every day calls for an
independent counsel to look at the campaign finance stuff, some of which
includes phone calls that you made or didn't make during the campaign season.
Is there any way short of an independent counsel to put this behind you?"
Finally, on August 4, the House Government Reform and
Oversight Committee heard testimony from Freeh and LaBella. Chairman Dan
Burton asked Freeh about the "covered persons"the FBI's
investigating that could trigger an independent counsel: "Does that
include the President and the Vice President?" Freeh replied: "Yes
sir." So here we have the FBI Director saying Clinton and Gore are
personally being investigated for law-breaking. Was that newsworthy?
Not to ABC or CNN, which ignored the exchange that night, focusing only on the
escalating dispute between Burton and Reno over his subpoena of the Freeh and
LaBella memos. NBC played it deep in their story. Only CBS and Fox News
Channel made it the lead of their reports.
When the Burton committee voted to charge Reno with contempt
of Congress, the networks relayed just the Democrat lines. On NBC, Claire
Shipman claimed: "NBC News has learned that Janet Reno has started a
formal 30 day review period to consider the appointment of an independent
counsel. There have been review periods before, but what this means is that
Reno is doing behind the scenes exactly what she says publicly:
seriously reviewing the matter."
They all ignored Republican objections. Only Carl Cameron's
report on Fox News Channel noted Rep. Bob Barr's complaint that Reno wouldn't
even send any part of the memos with sensitive details redacted. Cameron
uniquely reported Reno is breaking her own department's policy:
"Republicans deny intimidation tactics. They blame Reno and say she's
brought this on herself by violating the Justice Department's own rules which
say all congressional subpoenas must be honored unless the President claims
executive privilege." In The Washington Times, Rep. Chris Cox said he
voted for contempt because Reno "has never discussed with Mr. Freeh and
Mr. LaBella their extensive memos."
It seems every career prosecutor who's spent any time with
the evidence in the fundraising matter believes the scandal reaches the
highest levels of the executive branch. But the networks are still giving Reno
the Joan of Arc treatment. When will the networks get serious about the
scandals that aren't allegedly "just about sex"?
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